The Returnees

Ed. Note: Due to technical issues, there is no audio recording for this week's sermon. 


Ezra 2.1-70

Introduction: The Danger of Details.

Some of you here today would consider yourself to be a detailed person, while others would not consider yourself not very detailed. The truth of the matter is there is really no such thing as a detailed person or a non-detailed person. God is a God of details and we are made in His image. Therefore, we are all detailed about something. The question is some of us are detailed about certain things and not detailed about others. We give special care and attention to what we believe matters the most. So friends are the things you are detailed about helping you grow in your affections for God and others around you?

I heard this quote from John Piper this week:

“[The]...point [that] governs my preaching, my devotions, is this, I by in large do not live my life by lists. You try to live your life by lists, either the list will be ridiculous in its shortness compared to the 10,000 things you do each day or it will be so long you die. There is only one way to live the Christian life—don’t conformed but be transformed by the renewal of your mind! This is our only hope. Life is to spontaneous!...My biggest challenge is, ‘Piper be new! Be new!”—John Piper


Some of us here today have lists or priorities that need to be reshaped by transformed by our new identity as God’s chose children. But instead we have chosen to give our attention and care to things that do little or nothing to help bring about true sanctification. We are going to look at a list today. So while we will see details are important to God they need to belong to Him.


Theme: The significance of our details arises from our identity.


1. Doubt causing details—Ezra 2.2.


Last week we saw how God began the return of Israel to Jerusalem. God began to stir Cyrus, king of Perisa, to be an instrument that would be used to accomplish His purposes. God promised He would return His people to Jerusalem and rebuild His temple, and He began doing that. Not only did God stir this pagan king, but also His people.


What we are looking at today a list of the people who returned to Jerusalem—READ Ezra 2.1. Take notice of the phrase, “Now these were the people”. All the scholars agree what the author is doing here is subtly saying these are “True Israel”. Why? Well because the promises of God are manifesting in these peoples lives and not in those who do not return. They are the ones God must have been talking about through the prophets.


The problem one runs into is the details can get a little confusing. For instance there is a list of leaders given in Ezra 2.2 that is also given in Nehemiah 7.7.


When pay attention to the details here the Ezra passage has 11 names while the Nehemiah has 12 names. So which one is right? And more importantly does this undermine the authority of God’s word? First, let me tell what I think happened here. There could be several reasons for this. One that is clear is the list in the different books serve different purposes. For instance in Nehemiah 7 list I believe that it contains 12 names because the author is attempting to show us a “New Israel” and Israel has 12 tribes. Old Israel is gone—it failed! God is preserving a remnant to carry out His mission—a new Israel.


This could also be a scribal error. What do I mean by that? The position of Refuge and most other evangelical churches is the Word of God is without error, but we clarify by saying that we believe the original books were without error. So it is possible over the course of history that someone accidently left a detail. Before that causes you to doubt let me say this, does it really take away from the heart of the message? Would you throw out the heart of the message because of a minor detail? If someone sent you a letter that warned you a nuclear attack was coming would you dismiss it because “nuclear” was spelled wrong? That would be STUPID! You would die! If something like this causes you to doubt the promises of God then friend your addiction to details is KILLING you! (Take note the detail still comes to us in Nehemiah).

If we are not careful then we can get so caught up in details that are slowly destroying us from the inside out. Some of you are killing people with your overbearing attention to meaningless details. At the end of the day God governs all the details, therefore, we need to trust Him—trust that has the answers to our concerns. While we may never get those answers we can trust He has them. This is what we call FAITH.


2. The purpose of the list—Ezra 2.1, 59.


So why is the list here in Ezra. The purpose of the list here is God is showing He can fully restore what Israel was before the exile. The families that were in Jerusalem before the Babylonians came and taken into captivity, those same families, are returning to Jerusalem. This why the author in Ezra 2.59 says, “The following were those who came up...though they could not prove their fathers houses of their descent, whether they belonged to Israel.” God was preserving a certain people, a certain remnant, but who they were descendents of was important.

This is not God or Israel being nitpicky but a life and death matter—READ Ezra 2.62. If you were not the right person, who knew the right things to do, then you would DIE. Look with me at this story in Leviticus 10.1-3:


Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.—Leviticus 10.1-3


We cannot just come to God the way we want but they way He requires. And the truth of the matter is only those who are sanctified can come before God.


So how can we be sanctified? I think this where seeing the significance of the priest here is important. The priest who had been given authority by God to offer pleasing sacrifices to God was vital to the life of God’s people. The same is true for us today. We have the greatest Priest of all the Israelites. The author of Hebrews picks up on this theme, listen to what he says:


And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins...For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.—Hebrews 10.11-12, 14


It is through the one time sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross that we are sanctified. We are made right with God by His sacrifice on the Cross. Hebrews goes on to tell us we can now come to throne of God with confidence. We can come without free of death. We will not be consumed by His fire, but now that fire brings us life, passion, and joy!


3. How to identify of sanctified people—Ezra 2.68.


I think we can find a lot of application from what have learned today right here in Ezra 2.68-70. The application arises from a realization of what it means to be God’s people. How we live arises how we identify ourselves.

So the first identity we see is that those who’s hearts have been consumed by undeserving grace of God love to offer freewill offerings back to God. A “freewill” offering was an offering that God did not require—it was voluntary offering. The kingdom of God has always been built on the generosity of His people. But what happens we are consumed and humbled by the generosity of God that we want to respond in generosity. If you find yourself not being a generous person with your time, money, words or anything else then it is because you DO NOT believe it is a gift from God. You DO NOT believe it is grace. But when you heart has been changed you offer freewill offerings.


The second identity is the support and empowerment we receive from Gathering with God’s people. The Israelites were so excited to build a place for worship that they ALL pitched to help build that. No one had to pull their teeth it freely flowed from their affections. They wanted to gather with God’s people to sing and celebrate the grace of God.


But it did end there. No, read Ezra 2.70. All the different types of people in the list helped build a place to worship God, but they also scattered to “their towns” to glorify God there. While we love to Gather as God’s people we also love to scattered. Why? So the glory of God can permeate every corner of the earth. My hope and prayer today is you experienced the generosity of God given to us in Jesus Christ. I hope and pray the Gathering has encouraged and empowered you to scatter all over this city proclaiming the glory of God. If you do not know what that looks like then I would encourage you to talk to someone about discipleship or one of our Refuge Communities. That is what those are here to help us learn how to do. No one in those ministries has mastered that, but we scatter into homes, coffee shops, bars, seeking to strive toward that end.